When Isaac Penington, Margaret Fell and Elizabeth Bathurst join the reading group

Not some­thing I’ll do every day, but over on Quak­erQuak­er I cross-referenced today’s One Year Bible read­ings with Esther Green­leaf Murer’s Quak­er Bible Index. Here’s the link to my post about today: First Mon­th 20: Joseph ris­es to pow­er in Egypt; Jesus’ para­ble of wheat & tares and pearls. It’s a par­tic­u­lar­ly rich read­ing today. Jesus talks about the wheat and the weeds aka the corn and the tares, an inter­est­ing para­ble about let­ting the faith­ful and the unfaith­ful grow togeth­er.

As if know­ing today is Inau­gu­ra­tion Day, Isaac Pen­ing­ton turned it into a polit­i­cal ref­er­ence: “But oh, how the laws and gov­ern­ments of this world are to be lament­ed over! And oh, what need there is of their ref­or­ma­tion, whose com­mon work it is to pluck up the ears of corn, and leave the tares stand­ing!”

Mar­garet Fell sees the wheat and tares as an exam­ple of jeal­ousy and false min­istry: “Oh how hath this envi­ous man got­ten in among you. Sure­ly he hath come in the night, when men was asleep: & hath sown tares among the wheat, which when the reapers come must be bound in bundles and cast into the fire, for I know that there was good seed sown among you at the first, which when it found good ground, would have brought forth good fruit; but since there are mixed seeds­men come among you & some hath preached Christ of envy & some of good will, … & so it was easy to stir up jeal­ousy in you, you hav­ing the ground of jeal­ousy in your­selves which is as strong as death.”

We get poet­ry from the sev­en­teen cen­tu­ry Eliz­a­beth Bathurst (ahem) when she writes that “the Seed (or grace) of God, is small in its first appear­ance (even as the morn­ing -light), but as it is given heed to, and obeyed, it will increase in bright­ness, till it shine in the soul, like the sun in the fir­ma­ment at noon-day height.”

The para­ble of the tares became a call for tol­er­ance in George Fox’s under­stand­ing: “For Christ com­mands chris­tian men to “love one anoth­er [John 13:34, etc], and love their ene­mies [Mat 5:44];” and so not to per­se­cute them. And those ene­mies may be changed by repen­tance and con­ver­sion, from tares to wheat. But if men impris­on them, and spoil and destroy them, they do not give them time to repent. So it is clear it is the angels’ work to burn the tares, and not men’s.”

A cen­tu­ry lat­er, Sarah Tuke Grubb read and wor­ried about reli­gious edu­ca­tion and Quak­er drift: “But for want of keep­ing an eye open to this pre­serv­ing Pow­er, a spir­it of indif­fer­ence hath crept in, and, whilst many have slept, tares have been sown [Mat 13:25]; which as they spring up, have a ten­den­cy to choke the good seed; those ten­der impres­sions and reproofs of instruc­tion, which would have pre­pared our spir­its, and have bound them to the holy law and tes­ti­monies of truth.”

I hope all this helps us remem­ber that the Bible is our book too and an essen­tial resource for Friends. It’s easy to for­get this and kind of slip one way or anoth­er. One extreme is get­ting our Bible fix from main­stream Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian sources whose view­points might be in pret­ty direct oppo­si­tion from Quak­er under­stand­ings of Jesus and the Gospel (see Jean­ne B’s post on The New Calvin­ism or Tom Smith’s very rea­son­able con­cerns about the lit­er­al­ism at the One Year Bible Blog I read and rec­om­mend). On the oth­er hand, it’s not uncom­mon in my neck of the Quak­er woods to describe our reli­gion as “Quak­er,” down­grade Chris­tian­i­ty by mak­ing it option­al, unmen­tion­able or non-contextual and turn­ing to the Bible only for the oblig­a­tory epistle ref­er­ence.

This was first made clear to me a few years ago by the mar­gins in the mod­ern edi­tion of Samuel Bow­nas’ “A Descrip­tion of the Qual­i­fi­ca­tions Nec­es­sary to a Gospel Min­istry,” which were pep­pered with the Bib­li­cal ref­er­ences Bow­nas was casu­al­ly cit­ing through­out. On my sec­ond read­ing (yes it’s that good!) I start­ed look­ing up the ref­er­ences and real­ized that: 1) Bow­nas wasn’t just mak­ing this stuff up or quot­ing willy-nilly; and 2) read­ing them helped me under­stand Bow­nas and by exten­sion the whole con­cept of Quak­er min­istry. You’re not read­ing my blog enough if you’re not get­ting the idea that this is one of the kind of prac­tices that Robin, Wess and I are going to be talk­ing about at the Con­ver­gent work­shop next mon­th. If you can fig­ure out the trans­port then get your­self to Cali pron­to and join us.

  • great post MK.